Unpacking the way in which my complaint to the AA was handled shows how a more customer-centric approach would have helped.
My recent experience with the AA resulted in a complaint which resulted in me leaving the AA, only to return as part of a much better deal with my car insurance provider. My original experience was bad but the complaints handling was not great either. However, as with all bad experiences, there is much that we can learn – in this case how to handle complaints so that they add value to the organisation and the customer.
My experience and observation of the complaint leads me to highlight five do’s and don’ts that, if followed, will turn your complaints department into a source of value for your organisation.
A central London breakdown becomes an epic journey
It’s been a while since I’ve written about customer experience since there’s not a lot you can say about home delivery shopping and other pandemic-related services other than it’s been, well, OK. So it’s taken an almost entirely dreadful experience with AA’s breakdown service to get my customer experience mojo working again. Needs must, so here we go…
Thursday evening and my wife is on her way to a choir rehearsal on the other side of town. At 6.30pm and without warning the car engine cuts out in central London. Luckily she’s able to park up in a Holborn side street opposite a branch of Nando’s. Things could have been worse but then she calls the AA…
Leaders need to let people bring their “best selves” to work
If anyone’s noticed the gap in my writing on the KnittingFog.blog website they’ve been kind enough not to mention it to me – or a more likely explanation is that its low traffic (if it were a country village it would be a loner’s delight) means that no-one has noticed anyway.
I’ll put it down to the pandemic effect – not that I or anyone close to me has caught COVID-19 – but just that in the way in which priorities have shifted means that some priorities drop and then have difficulty getting back to their former status. Moreover, writing about my own customer experiences has been as limited as my shopping trips to the local stores: sources of god, bad or indifferent CX have been in short supply.
How will we look back on 2020 in years to come? I’m quite sure that we won’t be calling it the time when everything went more or less right. The failure of countries to get on top of coronavirus, with the prospect of a second spike in infections means that right now it’s tempting to view everything through the lens of failure.
I’m not going to line up behind MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s remarks about people’s “constant carping” – I’m all for a good old carp if it represents criticism and concern over something that’s plainly not working (in this case the UK’s test and trace system) – but I am going to take the opportunity to celebrate a few things that did work for me this summer. In no particular order:
When you think of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) then excellent customer relationship management is probably not the thing that springs to mind. Talk to any UK citizen and for all the genuine positive feeling about the NHS – witness the recent “Clap for Carers” and happy 72nd birthday celebration – there will be a good sprinkling of people with awful tales of long wait times, misdiagnoses and all manner of poor interpersonal reactions.
I’m maybe lucky in that most of my interactions – and as we’ll see, there have been quite a few – have been positive, but I’d like to highlight one series that has much to teach the commercial sector about customer relationships.
I’m also in danger of sounding a bit like your ageing relative who’s just caught up with new technology – “hey kids, have you discovered Instagram?” – as the app in question has been around for at least a couple of years and the band has been around for quite a bit longer.
I was in conversation with a fellow consultant recently where
she described her horrendous experience returning a sofa she had bought. You’d
think this would be a straightforward exercise – these days I find it’s straightforward
to return unworn or undamaged products to suppliers and get a refund – but not
so. In this case the sofa had been covered with a fabric that, after a few
weeks, had stretched significantly, making the whole thing look worn and unattractive.
My friend’s initial attempt to sort out a return was
rebuffed but she was undeterred and sought out help from a fabric expert, who
confirmed that the fabric used was too stretchy and therefore unsuitable for
use as a sofa covering, and a lawyer friend who obliged her with a suitably
A non-toxic theatre visit ticks all the right boxes
If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to a popular West End
show – and in my case even luckier to get one fairly cheaply (thanks to TodayTix) – your elation can be
followed by a sudden lowering of expectations: the venue will be crowded and
the business of getting to your seat can be a major stress point.
If your companion has mobility challenges, this stress can
be compounded, but a visit to the Old Vic last week proved to be a pleasant
surprise. I’d been warned that there was construction work going on at the
theatre, so my expectations of easy access were even lower than normal, but
here’s the pleasant surprise: plenty of people on hand to help. Having
been directed to the other side of the theatre to some temporary outside loos –
the works on the building seem to limit internal access at the moment – we
encountered an incredibly helpful member of the front-of-house team who
insisted on showing us to our seats at the back of the stalls just to make sure
they could be accessed.
The play – A Very
Expensive Poison – was excellent. However, the point of this is not to
recount a very enjoyable (also inexpensive and non-toxic) evening but to
reflect on why such experiences are still relatively rare. Many West End
theatres – and other businesses in central London – face structural problems, namely
old-fashioned pokey buildings, high rents and therefore ticket prices, and
these can mitigate against a good customer experience. However, this means that
businesses should invest in the relatively inexpensive assets that can turn an
enjoyable theatre visit into a memorable one: namely the people customers encounter
during the visit.
What’s frustrating is that there is nothing new or rocket-science
about any of this: you simply recruit people who want to serve customers well
and train them to make sure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to do
so. Staff at the Old Vic were all pleasant and friendly but that’s still a
rarity: it’s not that people are openly hostile, but too often I encounter
indifferent service staff who are “going through the motions” rather than
recognising it’s their job to make their customers feel better, however
fleeting that interaction might be.
Organisations – in the arts sector and beyond – that recognise
the central importance of this stand a greater chance of repeat business (I’m
looking forward to my next Old Vic visit) and the financial success that comes
Nick Bush fills up with hospitality, but wants more
Having grown up in a hotel and then a restaurant I am, more
than most people I suspect, obsessed with the hospitality industry. But a recent
experience made me realise that hospitality businesses rarely offer hospitality
that feels genuine – like a good evening spent having dinner at a friend’s
My immediate reaction to a restaurant offering “vegan soul
food” is “run that past me again?” – I have no objection to food not involving
animal products but it’s the “soul food” bit that mystifies me. Sufficiently so
that I didn’t rush to eat at the nearby Amrutha
Lounge when it opened last year but when I visited last week I realised what
a mistake that had been. Not only is the food delicious but the serving staff make
you feel genuinely welcome with an informality that stays the right side of the
“hi guys!” fake cheeriness cliché of most casual dining venue.
The feeling you get is that they want to feed you – and feed you well. If you order a selection menu, which we mainly did out of laziness, there is an “unlimited top-up” approach so that you can order more of anything that you like. In practice the food supplied was more than enough, but I couldn’t resist the waitress’s eagerness for me to have just a little bit more. I’m much the same when I get invited to dinner somewhere: I find good food very difficult to refuse!
So, it was this aspect that was the clincher for me – a restaurant
where people genuinely want you to enjoy yourself. It’s quite surprising when
you think about it – the vast majority of places I visit are transactional: you
order food, it gets delivered, you eat, pay the bill and depart. If you get
personable wait staff and a nice welcome/farewell that’s a bonus but it often
feels like it’s tacked on to the eating experience.
In the case of Amrutha Lounge I think the reason the
experience feels different is that it’s part of an underlying philosophy about
feeding people well. For example, they have a feature called “no man goes hungry”
where you can exchange labour in the restaurant for food if you can’t afford
it. (It’s a comedy cliché that if you can’t pay you end up washing the dishes,
but it’s the first time I’ve seen it as part of the offer.) I don’t know how
many people take it up, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s a statement of
intent: what comes first is the offer of food.
And this is where so many businesses get it wrong on
customer experience whether in hospitality or elsewhere. Too often, CX
initiatives are built on top of existing poor processes and reward systems with
little to change fundamental behaviours. As a consequence, effort is wasted,
and results don’t justify the investment: CX is seen as a waste and nothing to
do with the core business.
Actually, I would say forget customer experience and focus on
what your core business does for the customer and how you want them to feel as
a result: CX initiatives should grow out of that rather than be something that’s
layered on as an afterthought.
You could say that customer experience has to come from the gut, but in the case of businesses like Amrutha Lounge, that’s the start – and the destination.